Millennials and Politics: Disengaged or Disenchanted?

ByKatie Patton

The presidential campaign has taken off and between Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and that aging media platform, the television, it is a near certainty that there isn’t a millennial out there who isn’t aware the race has begun. Yet, it is too often said that members of this generation are politically disengaged; that our peers are more taken with “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” than keeping up with our potential political leaders. 

Could this be true? Despite the intense investment new social media outlets and generational advocates, such as Andrew Jenks, are making, are a majority of us using our voice to vote for the next American Idol while leaving our presidential ballots blank? 

I am not sure just how apathetic we are as a whole, but I can say I was not entirely thrown when I read that 45 million people did not watch the January 19th Republican debate, instead turning their attention to the new episode of Jersey Shore. However, when I consider how empowered younger generations have become, how hopelessly passionate millions of millennials are about social and environmental causes, and technological and medical advancement, confusion sets in. 

In theory, such strong-minded individuals, with so much invested in the future of this country, would undoubtedly want a say in who will be leading them for the next four years. After much consideration, I have concluded that one can be hopelessly passionate about the future, but still disengaged if no one is talking to them about it. In reference to the same debate, Jenks himself tweeted, “I did not hear the words ‘young people’ at any point last night.” Most likely, the disregard for “young people” is not intentional, but reminds me of the old saying, “If a tree falls in the woods, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If a political candidate campaigns on and debates topics that don’t engage the millennial generation, will there be any of us around to vote?

I would like to believe that the millennials yearn for exemplary leadership. What I know is that we will accept nothing less than to be engaged; to be talked to, not talked at; to be connected with and inspired. While I could never honestly claim that some of the reality shows mentioned inspire us to be better at whatever we strive to be, no one can deny that they engage and entertain the audience. These shows have gained millions of viewers by portraying everyday life and airing their dirty laundry for all to see; the brutal honesty, blunt humor, and exaggerated portrayal of “reality” has sparked a connection. 

In addition, there are television series, such as Glee, that openly advocate for issues such as gay-rights and anti-bullying, which automatically win over many in our age bracket. On the contrary, one often has to look far beneath the surface to connect with a political candidate, as they seemingly prioritize bastardizing their opponents above bonding with voters over social issues. It was said in the movie "The American President" that, “People want leadership. In the absence of true leadership they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.” It just might be that in the absence of what our generation feels is true leadership, we have started to listen to the craziest people with the loudest voices. 

Overall, I would like to think this article advocates for our generation; defends against all of those who say we are apathetic. I do not think we are disengaged in the least, just yearning for someone who will talk to us about issues that directly affect our lives, not just the lives of our parents. That being said, the pendulum swings both ways. When I took the time to re-listen to President Obama’s state of the union address, I realized that, while he didn’t discuss, at length, certain issues that I care most deeply about, he did focus on a few that directly affect our generation. 

Candidates aren’t necessarily screaming to us at the top of their lungs, or running on platforms that cater to our view on what’s vital to the well-being of our country, but they are starting the conversation. If the future leaders of the world are making a move, no matter how large or small, to engage us as a generation, it is our responsibility to start listening. I will stand by my theory that a portion of our political apathy is a result of the absence of true leadership that speaks to multi-generational problems, but I will also take a stance that, in the absence of true leadership, it is the job of passionate, intelligent millennials to not place stock in just anyone who steps up to the microphone. Rather, our generation needs to take note and make noise when a political candidate is engaging us, otherwise they will never know that they have the ability to win our vote. 

Katie Patton is behind It’s Only Getting Better, writing about the challenges twenty-somethings face and how no matter what happens, it’s only getting better. You can follow Katie & It’s Only Getting Better @ItsGettinBetter.

A version of this article originally appeared on Tripped Media.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons